Dinesh Karthik’s comeback in international cricket is one of the more un-Indian T20 rosters. He only scored half a century in the IPL. With Rishabh Pant in the squad to grab the gloves, Karthik becomes a specialist batter who won’t – and won’t – bat in the highest ranking. And, for once, here is a selection where a top order accumulator in the IPL and/or domestic cricket is not asked to take on the role of finisher in international cricket.
Karthik’s role description says “wicketkeeper batter”, but he does not compete with Pant or Ishan Kishan. There is a specific role Karthik plays in a T20 batting lineup, one that Kolkata Knight Riders learned the hard way. Ironically, when he captained Knight Riders in 2020, Karthik tried to make it through the innings, possibly giving Eoin Morgan his ideal starting point, but over the season he only managed to make three innings of any impact: he came in in the 11th, 15th and 18th overs in those three innings.
As IPL 2022 began, the Star Sports broadcast presented a telling statistic: In the last three IPLs, Karthik averaged 18 and struck at 126 when he was batting before the end of the 14th left. In his innings starting in the last six overs, these numbers rose to 37 and 157. At the close of this IPL, ESPNcricinfo’s statsman Shiva Jayaraman expanded the filter to the last eight overs in IPL games and T20Is from January 1, 2019 , and here are the corresponding numbers: In the last three-and-a-half years, Karthik has started with 38 innings after the 12th left, averaging 47, hitting 174 in them. In the same period, his 28 innings that started before the end of the 12th have resulted in an average of 19 and a strike rate of 129.
An elusive reason behind this is the role clarity that comes with hitting when there are only a certain number of deliveries left in the innings. One tangible reason is Karthik’s struggle against spin and his preference for pace. In the last three IPLs, Karthik averaged 37 and batted at 166 against pace, while averaged 15 and batted at 111 against spin. And you get less spin if you only hit in the death overs.
Royal Challengers Bangalore used Karthik almost perfectly in this year’s IPL, but the question is, is India willing to make those concessions to get the best out of Karthik? And the question arises because in the past many IPL successes have played a different role for India with no comparable results.
It is as much about willingness as it is about means. RCB had all-rounders to promote to Karthik if they lost wickets early on, and the presence of Wanindu Hasaranga typically coming in behind him gave him the freedom to bat as he did. India has the two Patels, Axar and Harshal, who must be prepared to make three-four overs if necessary so that Karthik can hit at his favorite point of entry.
India has long tried to transform top-ranking batters into lower-middle-class and finishing roles. With many a batsman of the highest order resting, it’s the perfect time to give all the attention to a man who is used to playing the final role of his franchise, for this role is That important. It’s also important not to look at aggregates, especially when he can’t do much hitting, as was the case in his previous stint in T20Is.
Just after his premadasa exploits, Karthik found himself out of the team, and when he came back he got nine innings in 13 games for a top of 33 not out and a strike rate of 140. Though India did well by failing to hit him before the death overs, Karthik didn’t get enough balls to hit, in part because India’s top orders tend to blow and take fewer risks.
In his long career with many comebacks, Karthik has played a variety of roles, from Test opener in England and South Africa to a sudden collapse of a World Cup semi-final, but now he promises to start a stint with a high degree of role clarity, something he has earned from his performances in the IPL. He has time for this year’s T20 World Cup to take this to the international level as well, and there’s no reason for India to slap him in another role now.